Deputy Mariano "Rocky" Lemus
Photo credit: Orange County Sheriff's Office
The family of a Florida deputy who died in 2005 from complications associated with hepatitis C contracted while on duty is fighting the Justice Department for death benefits.
The Orange County Sheriff's Office says that Deputy Mariano "Rocky" Lemus had been exposed to the disease several times at work during his career, but records show that it's unclear exactly when he contracted it, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
The DOJ says that the uncertainty is what led it to deny the family his benefit under the Public Safety Officer's Benefit Act -- which typically awards $250,000 to the families of first responders killed in the line of duty.
The sheriff's office and Lemus' family believe he likely contracted hepatitis C when a suspect bit him during a domestic-violence call years before his 2004 diagnosis.
The family wants to sue the DOJ, but is unable to do so until the agency issues a final denial.
"He left this world thinking his family was going to be taken care of — his kids, his grandkids," his wife, Robyn, told the newspaper. "This is an ongoing nightmare that we can't wake up from."
The legal fight began in 2007 when the sheriff's office received a letter from the DOJ saying it would not recognize the death of Lemus as eligible for benefits.
Despite support from the law enforcement community and medical professionals, DOJ administrators have denied Lemus benefits, but have withheld a ruling in the final appeal, which was filed in 2009.
The most recent response from the DOJ was a March 2012 letter from Administrative Support Specialist Liane Fowler, which stated: "The Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance has begun a final review of the record in the Lemus case and will render her determination as expeditiously as possible."